As I mentioned in the previous blog, we had four little friends that quickly became our companions. Sandra (13), Wycliff (15), and Gilbert (23) also joined our little company and often served as our guides when we went on walks. The first time I explored the city, all seven of these kids went with me. We traveled through the village and played with some neighbor kids. On the way back, they took me through an Africa jungle filled with trees, birds, absolutely no houses, and a tiny dirt path. I definitely felt like an explorer. At first I greatly enjoyed our evening strolls through the villages. But as our walks got earlier and earlier during the day, I began to dread them. Nothing compares to the hot African sun beating down on you, especially when you're white.
But it was usually worth it. Wycliff, Sandra, Eric, Ivan and Gloria are all brothers and sisters. They lived down the street with their father who was good to them. But they hadn't seen their mother in over a year. After the parents divorced, the mother moved to the city and rarely ever saw the kids. The first time I walked with the kids, Gloria walked by my side the entire time. Near the end of the walk, she took my hand and held it the rest of the way. It was near dark by the time we got back. We went around the back of the house and sat down on the stools. Since we had a shortage of stools, little Gloria sat with me. In Luganda (the local language in Luwero), she told Moma and Auntie Rachael that I was like mom. And from that day on, that was who I was.
Later that week, the worship leader of the church walked into our house and started talking to me in Luganda. Sebastian and I nodded along, not understand, but one thing he said was abundantly clear. More than once he called me "Mama Alisa".
I figured he got this name because during church services, the children would sit on a tarp on the floor at the front of the church and entertain themselves as the pastor spoke. Our chairs were right next to the tarp. At first, the kids would be shy and look away if we caught them staring at us. Some of them would even stare us down with a pretty mean face. But, if you figured out the right facial expression to make at them, the mean face would melt away and quickly be replaced by a huge smile. By the end of the service, both Sebastian and I would have the kids surrounding us yelling excitedly, laughing, touching our hands and trying to catch our eye. One service, the pastor and elders actually moved from the pulpit to the middle of the room, cutting us out of the equation, so they could finish everything up. If we weren't a distraction before, we certainly became one later on.
I share this because this is what our mission became about. Whenever we tell someone that we were on a mission trip in Africa they always expect to hear about how we built something. When we reply that we did children's ministry, they're always surprised. Their expression gives away the thought, "Why would you go to another country to waste your time with children instead of building something useful that will last?"
The answer to that is easy. A child needs love and needs at least one chance in their lives to feel special. In a country where just about every child is an orphan and probably only has one parent, leaving a little love can make a huge difference. Of course the mission doesn't end there. Often times you do have to meet the physical so that you can reach the spiritual and emotional. That's why we intend to return to build a school so we can finish what we started. I want to encourage you too. Continue investing in the lives of the children God has placed you in. Even in America children undergo abuse and homelessness. Sometimes it's obvious and other times it's not. If you have a voice in the life of a child, be sure to use it. Kids need love everywhere, not just in Africa.